This can be accomplished by using economic incentives to promote conservation. Sharing the expenses that landowners face in protecting important habitats will turn endangered species from a liability into an asset. This paper explores the various ideas for using incentives that have been proposed, and suggests how they can be effectively employed in the interests of landowners and rare organisms alike.
The incentives that are to be analyzed here include: removing disincentives to conservation, programs encouraging voluntary conservation, a biodiversity trust fund, tax deductions, paying bounties for endangered species and their habitat, bidding for non-use of government lands, contracting recovery efforts, a development-conservation credit scheme, user fees for recreation in natural areas, trading usable public lands for `unusable' private lands, and rewards for reporting criminal offenses to endangered species. Many of these ideas have proven to be successful on a trial basis, and offer hope for large-scale implementation.
This paper recommends that legislation be enacted to encourage the use of incentives which should prove to be a more effective means of protecting imperiled species. Although the costs incurred by these incentives may be high in some cases, they will be highly cost-effective. The current `at any cost' strategy is only marginally effective, and can actually harm species in some circumstances.
There are a number of reason why the current law is inadequate. The burden of saving endangered species in the U.S. falls squarely on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These two organizations are vastly understaffed and underfunded for the task they have been given (L. McKinney 1993, Opdycke 1993). Consequently, most of their efforts are devoted to protecting endangered species on public land, which they have accomplished fairly well (Reid 1993).
The Fish and Wildlife Service in particular has been unsuccessful and at times counter-productive when it comes to protecting endangered species on private lands. Their strategy has been to regulate and restrict the use of private lands with endangered species or their habitat. Landholders, who are forced to comply, have found these orders costly, confusing, authoritarian, and sometimes completely unnecessary. Consequently, landowners generally want nothing to do with the recovery of imperiled species. In some instances, they even go out of their way to harm species by destroying habitat on their land. Given this antagonistic approach, it is no wonder that endangered species continue to be pushed towards the brink of extinction.
The pattern to date has not been hopeful. At best, landowners begrudgingly comply with the regulations (which are often vague and contradictory). At worst, landowners go out of their way to destroy endangered species habitat either before they are listed, or before the Fish and Wildlife Service learns of their existence. Some people even go to the extreme of using the `shoot, shovel, and shut up' method to prevent listed species from inhabiting their lands.
A good example of the harm done to listed species by the law that is supposed to protect them comes from Texas. Near Austin, nine federally protected species inhabit land that has come under intense development pressures. The two most prominent species are the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. These birds had significant amounts of habitat on the land slated for development.
To retain `ownership' and the value of their property, many landholders destroyed habitat for the birds prior to their (anticipated) listing. Some owners even did so after the listing, but before the Fish and Wildlife Service had discovered the birds inhabiting the property. Larry McKinney, an official for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, goes so far as to say: "While I have no hard evidence to prove it, I am convinced that more habitat for the black-capped vireo, and especially the golden-cheeked warbler, has been lost in those areas of Texas since the listing of these birds than would have been lost without the ESA [Endangered Species Act] at all. Undoubtedly, some landowners unwittingly destroyed habitat before the USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] identified it as such and imposed restrictions." (L. McKinney 1993).
Clearly this is not how the Endangered Species Act should function. There are other (more isolated) instances of landowners intentionally harming species to regain control of their land (Stroup 1995). The law does not intend to harm species or create animosity towards both the law and the species it protects (or is considering to protect), and should be changed to reflect this fact.
As it stands now, unfortunate landowners must carry all of the burden of protecting endangered species, while the benefits go to everyone. The public can not be expected to pay for all of the costs of protecting species on private land, but they could forge a more equitable arrangement when it come to protecting species on private lands.
Another positive aspect of incentives is that they would encourage more cooperation in the planning process. If involved parties have something to gain by participating in conservation planning, they will be more likely to do so than if the only motivating force is punishment. This reduces the polarization that puts both `sides' on the defensive, often to the detriment of the species involved.
With the current situation, landowners behave to maximize their economic gain while minimizing their punishment (as is expected from the punishment-punishment options that landowners face). This translates into harm for endangered species and their habitat, which is only be protected by desperate legal actions of `extremist' environmentalists or sanctions from ineffectual government agencies. Incentives can help to make sure that all parties are satisfied, and increase the amount and effectiveness of conservation efforts.
The first would be to do away with the government's power to regulate the use of lands that they do not own. This would remove the economic advantage that those who damage habitats (or have no protected habitats) gain over those who follow the rules. Of course, this would also get rid of the rules, so additional measures would need to be in place to prevent damage to habitats. This could be in the form of economic incentives for conservation or fiscal sanctions against those who deliberately damage habitats (Stroup 1995).
The second important perverse incentive that must be addressed is in the distribution of public natural resources. Under the current arrangement, the government sells public resources at below-market prices to exploitative users. Conservationists wishing to preserve these resources are locked out of the market, as non-use results in forfeiture of the rights. The most disturbing aspect of this is that the government loses money on the deal--it is a taxpayer-subsidized exploitation of public resources. Also, over-use of the resource right is silently encouraged as it will lower the price for that resource right in the future.
Passing laws to open the closed markets for resource rights will be a big incentive to conserve. Private organizations could conserve public resources as well as private ones. Also, by requiring that public resource agencies charge fair market value and operate on their profits, the incentives to over-exploit public resources will be reduced (O'Toole 1993).
The disincentive of closed markets for government resources, will be much harder to change. Resource users have been operating with this subsidy for ages, and have an entrenched political voice for the continuation of such policies. (If their voice was at all weak, these laws would have been changed a long time ago.) Only with significant public pressure can these disincentives be removed.
Such an agreement would be non-binding (reversible at any time). Landowners would not be financially rewarded in such a program. Instead, they would receive public recognition, technical support, and the satisfaction of having `done the right thing'. A line of communication would be opened and could be used as an inroad for other interests (biological surveys, conservation organizations, etc.)
The Program then serves as a liaison between the various government agencies involved (federal, state, local) and the landowner. The landowner receives a certificate of recognition and a watercolor of the endangered species benefiting from the agreement, as well as a steady supply of information on its conservation. Assuming that the landowner agrees to help and does so in perpetuity, voluntary agreements serve all interested parties well at almost no cost (Desimone 1994).
Volunteer programs help landowners protect species with both the information and the technical assistance of other agencies that they could dispatch. Many small landowners are willing to help endangered species, but don't know how to `do the right thing'. Volunteer programs can accomplish this.
This volunteer approach will work best with small rural landowners, who are typically conservation-minded (having a long term commitment to the land while reaping some benefits from it). They often are willing to conserve land, provided that they have the ultimate choice over the decision to conserve, and are given clear, consistent advice on how to carry out their responsibilities.
Another drawback to this approach will be the coordination of incentives if stronger incentives are to be used for similar purposes. Small landowners would be angry (and would not participate) if nearby larger landowners were compensated monetarily for their conservation efforts while they were expected to volunteer. This must remain a consideration in designing a comprehensive system of incentives to protect biodiversity.
Despite its drawbacks, volunteer programs may be an effective choice in many circumstances. They should provide a long-lasting, amicable, and flexible relationship with landowners at very little cost. In addition, they are easy to implement, cost virtually nothing to start, and are flexible enough to suit the needs of most small landholders. Should they prove themselves ineffective, they would be just as easy to discontinue. Considering the numerous possible benefits and their low cost, it is a wonder that more volunteer conservation programs have not been initiated.
There are essentially two main sources that these funds could possibly come from: government and private contributors. Most of the proposals for trust funds rely a great deal on private donations to accomplish their goals (Baden and O'Brien 1993, O'Toole 1993). Some plans argue that government should not be involved in such a fund, or on a very limited basis. Baden and O'Brien (1993) claim that "revenues from public land activities...could also be allocated to the trust funds, but it would be unwise to do so without extreme sensitivity to the problems inherent in government support." This is a noteworthy consideration, as securing public funds is an intense political battle, and any funds allocated may be highly unreliable.
A biodiversity trust fund could be set up on a local, state, or national scale, and would have an unlimited variety of conservation options that it could choose to support. These choices would include: purchasing land to establish preserves, purchasing conservation easements, paying bounties for endangered species on private lands, buying conservation contracts, offering grants or low-interest loans to conservation projects, and conducting research (with a small, fixed percentage of the fund) (O'Toole 1993).
The trustees would be appointed based on their experience in conservation activities and their ability to decide how the resources are to be divided among the various projects that they wish to promote. The board could conceivably consist of conservation-minded business leaders, environmental activists, ecologists, conservation biologists, and government officials (should government funds be involved). The nominations could be made by elected government representatives, or perhaps by scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences (O'Toole 1993, Baden and O'Brien 1993).
These organizations have gone a long way to protect biodiversity, and have good results to show for it. Although their ambitions have been limited by the funds that they have available to them, they have a strong track record, especially when it comes to getting the most out of their money. Another way that private conservation groups have excelled is in their innovative ideas. Unlike government agencies, they are willing to try and use creative approaches if they believe that they will succeed.
Organization 1994 Revenues Conservation International $11.2 Environmental Defense Fund 21.9 Greenpeace USA 40.7 National Audubon Society 43.4 National Wildlife Federation 87.7 Natural Resources Defense Council 17.0 Nature Conservancy 216.2 Sierra Club 43.2 Wilderness Society 16.5 World Wildlife Fund 55.9 Total $553.7Source: Edwards (1995).
Factoring the costs of conservation into the equation (following a thorough scientific inquiry) will ultimately help an imperiled species. With the Fish and Wildlife Service's current shoestring budget, very little money is available to actually implement the recovery plans that are formulated. Consequently, little attention is paid to the efficiency (cost-effectiveness) of a plan, and costly, unrealistic plans are the result. Putting recovery on budget admits the shortcomings of the current situation, and will encourage more effective approaches to saving species.
The final major benefit of a trust fund is the group of people that can become involved. The trustees can be drawn in from private conservation organizations, and will have the experience and good judgment to manage the fund wisely. This will help to ensure the effectiveness of the program. A politically isolated trust fund could also enjoy the benefit of more objective scientific opinions, which are sometimes swayed by political pressures in the current system. Given a reasonable amount of funding, these advantages will ultimately serve biodiversity better than the current system.
Significant government funding will probably not be available. The only feasible source of government money is a percentage of public user fees earmarked for the trust fund. This would require that the government agencies responsible for natural resources would have to charge fair market value, and would not be allowed to operate on a deficit (O'Toole 1993). Common sense tells us that this should be the case, but getting this message to Washington D.C. may prove to be difficult.
The only other major sources of income for a trust fund are private contributions. Again, there will be a challenge in raising sufficient funds for an effective program. Conservation-minded individuals are already giving a large sum of money to private conservation organizations, and can not be expected to donate much more than they already are. Getting those that are ambiguous or against conservation to donate will be even more difficult task. Making the contributions tax-deductible could help, but that will again raise the problem of gathering political support. In other words, funding will be a major hurdle for a national trust fund.
In one study, over 80 percent of Americans surveyed said they were willing to pay over $100 annually for the conservation of old growth forests (Hagen et al. 1992). Assuming that people are actually willing to pay that amount, $22 billion ($100 x .80 x 275,000,000) could be available to start a biodiversity trust fund! This figure should be taken with a grain of salt--it is probably overly optimistic, and there is no guarantee that it would be a continuous source of funding.
Even if a national fund is not feasible, a similar trust fund could be started with less money on a regional/state/local level. Given a modicum of funding, and people working to make the most of it, a conservation trust fund can conceivably work as well or better than its non-profit prototypes.
At the very least, the property tax code could be modified to reflect the actual value of lands being conserved (by choice or regulation). The current `best use' valuation that is assessed is unfair punishment to those that are trying to help with a common public goal. Inheritance tax reform could also be employed in the interests of conservation. An exemption could be offered to heirs until they sell or negatively modify inherited lands. This would help prevent the fragmentation and development of large tracts of land. Allowing landholders to take deductions for conservation expenses incurred by Fish and Wildlife Service regulations is another strong possibility (J. McKinney et al. 1993).
Other tax changes could discourage destructive land use practices such as development and natural resource extraction (timber, minerals, water, etc.). The much needed revenue generated by these new taxes would partially go to pay for other conservation programs (J. McKinney et al. 1993).
Secondly, taxes are such a good incentive that they often encourage people to cheat or fudge in their efforts to minimize tax liability. A rather large difficulty will arise in making sure that only those who qualify receive the benefits that tax breaks offer. Standard tax penalties would need to apply in cases where people use conservation to evade tax liability, and additional penalties might be levied and devoted to conservation efforts.
Taxes have proven themselves to be a powerful motivator in determining behavior--just ask Leona Helmsely! Because of this fact, it will take some thinking to subsidize conservation with tax incentives.
Another possible source of funding for a compensation fund is an agricultural damage insurance company. Here, ranchers and farmers would pay a small premium (perhaps combined with outside funding) to guarantee reimbursement of predation losses, to endangered or other wild species.
Another potential drawback is that such programs would be rendered ineffective in areas of high development pressure--the gain available for `cashing in your chips' would far outweigh the benefit from an endangered species bounty. For these reasons, this program will work best with rural landholders (like a stronger version of the voluntary incentive effective in more specific circumstances).
There are two possible scenarios that one could imagine with such a policy. To avoid competition with the regular users of public resources, the overseeing agencies could offer unused or unwanted lands specifically for conservation purposes. These lands would be offered at a lower rate than is typically charged to users, and would pose no problems in that the lands actually are of lesser value except in their conservation.
An example of this would be auctioning conservation rights to lands inhabited by spotted owls in old growth forests. Timber extraction would be illegal (or astronomically expensive if done legally), so it would have little economic value. These lands would have great conservation value, however, and could be leased at a discounted rate to organizations or individuals who wish to improve the habitat for the protected species inhabiting it.
The other approach would be to allow open bidding for the conservation of useful lands. Environmental organizations would compete directly for resource rights with the individuals and businesses that have traditionally extracted resources (T.L. Anderson 1993, Stroup 1995). This will make the market for public resources truly open, giving a voice to the historically muted interests of endangered species. Opening the market to more diverse interests would be a definite improvement, and the battles between conservationists and those that exploit resources would be fought at the auction block, not the courtroom.
This arrangement benefits ranchers, the government, and environmentalists alike. The ranchers, whose past grazing damaged the land past utility, get the land restored to top condition for free. Of course, ranchers will have to pay higher rates for the improved land and may eventually have to compete for range land with conservationists. The state supplements their income by receiving revenue for unused land. Also, the government will collect a higher rent in the future should they decide to graze the improved lands. Forest Guardians (funds permitting) can lease the land in perpetuity, protecting a small parcel of important riparian habitat.
Conservation organizations and environmentalists would gain from the satisfaction of having preserved a community resource for future generations. Although they receive this benefit in most of the work that they do, it is a resource that may have been depleted or destroyed without their intervention. Also, the cost of leasing land is much less than purchasing it, even over the course of decades or centuries.
It will be no cake-walk to implement this incentive. A change in legislation will be necessary to allow for this new policy (T. L. Anderson 1993). Such a policy change should be easy to implement, given the prospect of increased government revenues. Irrational fears that environmentalists would lock up all available public resources would probably need to be alleviated as well. Although public land users could expect to see an increase in prices and a decrease of availability, conservationists would most likely choose lands that had high conservation (and hence less economic) value.
Resource users could also take advantage of such policies. Companies could potentially lease land for conservation in fulfillment of their mitigation requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Under section 10 of the current law, private citizens or companies can only "incidentally" take endangered species habitat if they improve a greater habitat elsewhere. Leasing land and improving it as habitat for protected species could qualify as mitigation for temporary `incidental harm' to habitats elsewhere
For example, the federal government could sell exclusive handling rights for certain protected species. Concerned organizations could buy these rights, and conduct independent recovery activities such as captive breeding and reintroduction. Businesses could also buy these rights and sell recovery services to developers or others adversely affecting endangered species that need to fulfill their mitigation requirements under section 10. Also, benevolent conservationists could hire a recovery firm to help the recovery of an endangered species (Schildwachter 1995). The government would need a system to monitor the activities of individuals purchasing recovery rights, ensuring that no net harm is done to a species.
Developers and companies could hire one recovery firm to do everything for them. They would no longer need to spend excessive time, energy, and money on taking a biological inventory, independently planning with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and carrying out that plan. This will potentially lower costs, and open the Habitat Conservation Planning process (a prerequisite to allowing `incidental harm' under section 10) to smaller landholders and businesses. Currently only the largest companies can afford to undergo the planning process, but firms that handle all aspects of recovery could accommodate more diverse interests into the process.
Conservationists would benefit in the very least by knowing that the recovery effort was carried out to high standards. Also, if they possess the funding to get involved, they could help species beyond the minimum amount required by the contract. Another indirect benefit to environmentalists could come from the fact that a single authorized company handling the recovery of protected species in a given area could develop and implement a more comprehensive recovery plan by pooling the conservation needs of several corporations, developers, etc.
Private non-profit conservation organizations could face difficulties in funding a conservation contract. They would probably have to scrounge to find money to buy the recovery rights of a species or recovery contracts would come at the expense of other projects. On the other hand, they are accustomed to raising money for special activities, and could choose to make contracting recovery of species a priority if they felt it would be worthwhile.
It should not difficult to change the Endangered Species Act to allow the sale of conservation rights. Although it would be a political battle, the change would generate revenue for the government, and lessen the responsibilities of stressed government agencies. Politicians would be hard-pressed to argue against such changes.
Surprisingly, recovery rights will probably be hardest to sell to conservationists in more ways than one. It will increase their costs, and bring up the touchy issue of `owning' nature as well. The selling point for environmentalists is that recovery rights will increase their options. Also, contracting ensures that recovery will be done as well as or better than the government can currently do (punishments can be implemented for unscrupulous contractors). All in all, this can be a workable idea in a well-rounded system of incentives.
The specifics vary between proposals, but generally it would work by establishing a preserve in the most critical habitat of the area slated to be developed. Then a maximum percentage of the remaining land to be developed would be set. The non-preserve land is then given a habitat value (which determines whether it will be developed or conserved). A mitigation ratio is then set according to the amount of land allowed to be developed (for example if 25 percent of the area is to be developed, 3 acres of land must be conserved for every one that is developed--a 1:3 mitigation ratio).
Developers would then commence to build, and must either conserve some of their land for mitigation requirements or must buy the excess mitigation credits of other developers (whose land was of greater habitat value than building value) (Olson et al. 1993). Builders would also presumably possess the option of trading actual lands, not just the credits from how they were used.
A Development Credit System was then put in place to allow trading of credits between those in the preserved regions and those in the other regions. Voluntary preservation of lands in preservation areas earns credits which can be sold to developers, who can increase the density of their housing projects by buying an appropriate number of credits. Though this scheme relies on the initiative of residents in preserving parts of their property, almost 10,000 acres of land have been protected in the ten years since its inception (Goldstein and Heintz 1993).
This foresighted approach will help prevent the fragmentation of critical habitats caused by haphazard development which avoids only isolated patches of endangered species. Sound preserve design requires a minimum preserve size to reduce the likelihood of extinction. It will do no good to have several small preserves surrounded by houses if the protected species inhabiting them all die out. The few large, connected preserves established by mitigation banking will maximize the chances for survival of the species living there.
The homeowner who moves into the development will ultimately pay the costs of protecting the endangered species that they live near. Although mitigation banking cannot reduce the absolute costs, this arrangement spreads the cost more evenly without creating a new burden on the taxpayers.
Fees charged for the use of public resources can come from a number of sources. Recreation would be the most important source due to the sheer volume of people using a given resource. Increasing the charge by a small amount can also generate a large revenue if enough people participate. Also, harmful over-use of natural areas will be lessened as the increase in cost discourages some would-be visitors.
Fees are also charged to industrial users of public resources. These users could be charged more, as they generally receive these commodities for much less than market value. In fact, the government consistently runs at a loss selling many public resources (O'Toole 1993). Increasing the costs for these could go to offset the maintenance
Costs for the public resources they take advantage of. Also, additional monies could go into conserving areas which are not open to use.
The ideal situation as I envision it is that hunters, fisherman, hikers, campers, and limited industries would have access to lands in a buffer zone that surrounds habitat for protected species. The fees collected from such activities in the buffer zone would go to enrich the all of the lands of concern. Some of the costs would go to collecting and enforcing the fee system, but the vast majority would return to the land, ensuring that the recreational experience is worthwhile for the customers, and minimizing the impact of their activities.
On private lands, there are burgeoning industries of `fee hunting' on big game ranches. Here, sportsmen pay up to $10,000 for a hunting trip with a good prospect of success. Landowners deliberately enrich the land to attract and support big game, which in turn increases the income they earn (Kay 1986). This idea can be adapted for public lands as well, and could support improvements in endangered species habitat.
This could also prove to be a hidden tax on businesses, who would unwittingly foot the bill for conservation. Many businesses (especially in the western U.S.) entertain clients with outdoor recreation experiences. The costs are often paid by the company as a business expense. Little notice would probably be taken if a $3000 guided fishing trip became a $3500 fishing trip with added conservation fees.
The main obstacle to such a system is that governments have learned to use the fees to supplement the public coffers. This does nothing to help the productivity and beauty of the land that raised the fees and is a discriminating tax on those who appreciate our natural resources. If implemented properly, user fees from recreation can be an effective way to protect large areas of public land and encourage sustained use of the resources they offer.
In its basic form, rather than the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service coming in and enforce regulations on the property, they would offer to trade a piece of federal property of equal value for the critical habitat. This does not necessarily have to be a government operation either, non-profit organizations could also buy and exchange desirable commercially usable property for critical habitat with greater conservation value.
The federal government is planning to sell the wetlands to the South Florida Water Management District for controlling water resources, and the proceeds will be used to expand two wildlife refuges in the area. The Nevada property now in the hands of Aerojet-General has 7,000 hectares set aside for protection of the desert tortoise, another protected species. The trade should work out to the benefit of all parties involved (McNeely 1988).
Executing the trades will prove to be the biggest problem; Congress had to approve the Florida-Nevada trade described above through legislation. A change in law would be necessary to give the Fish and Wildlife Service lands and the authority to trade them if trading was to be done frequently. Nearby lands may not be available for swapping as the above case also illustrates. Despite these difficulties, it should be an effective incentive if given the chance.
Rewards could also encourage people to come forward about violations in the workplace, who are fearful of being fired or harassed about their honesty. Another potential benefit is in securing support for endangered species. Many local people hate endangered species with a passion (witness all the spotted owl recipes concocted by out-of-work loggers). This may change when they see the chance to make some money by helping endangered species. Even if they never actually receive a reward, the possibility could instill more respect for them.
In cases where an outsider is coming in and illegally destroying resources, to the detriment of the locals standard of living, this could be an effective tool (McNeely 1988). This real effect is more of a concern in developing countries where poaching is a major problem. The main benefit in the U.S. would be in the attitudes it could change. At best it should be considered a minor option. At worst, it could backfire and do harm (indirectly) to endangered species.
Incentives could face opposition from the environmental movement, whose `polluter pays' principle holds that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for people not to pollute or destroy habitat. This is a valid point when unsound practices can harm everybody, however this is a two way street. When a majority of people benefit from the existence of protected species and their habitats, then they should help pay for it. There is no free lunch. Forcing private landowners to pay all the costs of conservation encourages them to not conserve, covertly destroy habitat, or manage their land to prevent the immigration of endangered species. Incentives can distribute the costs of conservation more fairly and will make conservation a much more attractive proposition.
Incentives would work most effectively in addition to the current system, which imposes penalties for degrading endangered species habitat. This will roughly double the reward for conserving (compared to not conserving). Which penalties should be kept is another question. Keeping the jail terms and fines for illegal activities on public lands would be a good idea as they would be relatively easy to enforce, and would constitute a clear violation of public will.
For private lands, it would probably be wisest to have a system of economic incentives and disincentives to promote conservation (as any blatant criminal offenses will be committed covertly to avoid detection). An economic penalty for obvious damage to habitat coupled with a partial subsidy for conserving habitat could make conservation the lowest cost option. This scenario would protect endangered species more effectively, while preserving a landowner's right to choose how his property is used.
The legislation necessary to implement such a plan could be enormous. The wisest approach would be make the current law applicable to federal lands only. The Fish and Wildlife Service would be in charge of conservation of these lands, which it has in general done a good job of (Reid 1993). A new entity should then be created to protect endangered species on private lands. This could be a division of the Fish and Wildlife Service or an entirely new agency. The only requirement is that this bureau would devote its entire attention to conservation of private lands.
This new agency would be given authority and flexibility to experiment with various creative solutions to the biodiversity crisis. Their powers would exceed those the Fish and Wildlife Service currently has (like the ability to land swap), but they would lack the power to directly control private lands. (They could effectively do so by charging extremely high permit fees for disastrous activities).
They would be made responsible for: a federal conservation land bank, trading public property for private, appropriation of a trust fund, overseeing a volunteer program, advising legislators on tax legislation that would encourage conservation, negotiating with other governmental agencies, coordinating public and private conservation strategies, delegating authority to private conservation organizations or companies, and doing other duties necessary to conserve private lands. Basically, it would be similar to a private conservation organization, with extra powers to better promote conservation as well as excellent government contacts.
Incentives show a great deal of promise for the future of endangered species and biodiversity in general. Used effectively, they will encourage conservation by private landowners, and will engender a more positive attitude towards imperiled species. They can also conceivably be employed to prevent species from becoming endangered in the first place. The flexibility and cooperative nature of incentives will help ensure their success. But if they are to work at all, we must give these measures a solid chance to prove themselves.
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